Gov­er­nance: A case of an FIR and an award

The army is con­fused, even an­gry. The rea­son: AFSPA, or rather the di­lu­tion of it

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The army is con­fused, even an­gry. The rea­son: AFSPA, or rather the di­lu­tion of it

IT is iron­i­cal that on the eve of the 72nd In­dian In­de­pen­dence Day, the Supreme Court of In­dia should be wit­ness to hear­ing of a petition by over 300 serv­ing army per­son­nel across ranks, ap­peal­ing against the di­lu­tion of the Armed Forces Spe­cial Pow­ers Act (AFSPA). The pe­ti­tion­ers con­tend they ‘be­lieve that sovereignty, se­cu­rity and in­tegrity of the na­tion is at higher pedestal than even the Con­sti­tu­tion of In­dia’ and that the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice re­quired of a sol­dier ‘can­not be sus­tained un­der a state of con­fu­sion or cloud as to the bonafide duty it­self ’. Fur­ther, they ‘are now fac­ing con­fu­sion and coun­ter­ing ques­tions from the sol­diers un­der their com­mand, as to whether they are sup­posed to con­tinue to en­gage the proxy war and in­sur­gency with their mil­i­tary train­ing, prin­ci­ples, stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures, op­er­a­tional re­al­i­ties, val­our and courage or act and op­er­ate as per the yard­sticks of peace time op­er­a­tions, law and or­der is­sues and CrPC.’ When sol­diers of an army that has been tasked with counter-in­sur­gency op­er­a­tions in some states for decades ad­mit to con­fu­sion amongst their ranks, this must mark a dan­ger­ous low in the his­tory of both the Re­pub­lic and the armed forces and re­flects on the very frag­ile state of civil-mil­i­tary re­la­tions. This is a his­toric low in civil-mil­i­tary re­la­tions for two other rea­sons. First, be­cause never has a body of serv­ing per­son­nel cho­sen to by-pass tra­di­tional hi­er­ar­chy and knock di­rectly at the doors of the high­est court and sec­ond, be­cause group ac­tion by serv­ing per­son­nel is strictly against good or­der and mil­i­tary dis­ci­pline. The im­me­di­ate provo­ca­tion for this un­prece­dented step may ap­pear to be the case of an FIR filed by the J&K police against Maj. Aditya Ku­mar of Garhwal Ri­fles and oth­ers, for a bonafide ac­tion they took re­cently in Shopian against stone-pel­ters when the lat­ter threat­ened to lynch one of the JCOs and which re­sulted in deaths of three civil­ians. In response, Maj. Aditya’s father Lt Col Karamveer Singh, also a serv­ing of­fi­cer, has filed an ap­peal in the Supreme Court re­quest­ing quash­ing of this FIR and terming the stone-pel­ters as ter­ror­ists. But to all who wish to see, this his­toric low was long in com­ing and if there is any sur­prise it can only be the sheer in­dif­fer­ence of suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments and Par­lia­ment not to weigh the con­se­quences of a near-per­ma­nent de­ploy­ment of the army on counter-in­sur­gency du­ties in parts of the coun­try. It is worth re­call­ing an in­ci­dent in J&K in the pre-elec­tion pe­riod in 2014 when the army had been com­pelled to shoot dead two civil­ians be­cause their ve­hi­cle re­fused to stop at two check points. This op­por­tu­nity was taken by many to den­i­grate the Army and even at­tempt scor­ing elec­toral brownie points, putting the Army on the back-foot. At

When sol­diers of an army that has been tasked with coun­terin­sur­gency op­er­a­tions in some states for decades ad­mit to con­fu­sion amongst their ranks, this must mark a dan­ger­ous low in the his­tory of both the Re­pub­lic and the armed forces and re­flects on the very frag­ile state of civilmil­i­tary re­la­tions

the time a re­puted na­tional daily in an ed­i­to­rial pa­tro­n­is­ingly asked “Why do sol­diers pa­trolling civil­ian ar­eas in Kash­mir shoot to kill, so eas­ily? The an­swer, in five let­ters, is AFSPA.” Yet the Ed­i­to­rial failed to ask an even more fun­da­men­tal ques­tion. Why is it that ar­eas of the state con­tinue for years to be de­clared “dis­turbed” un­der a demo­cratic govern­ment? Fur­ther, if the writer had taken the trou­ble to study case his­to­ries of the 362 army sui­cides that the de­fence min­is­ter had re­ferred to at that time, it would per­haps have dawned that the stress of pro­longed de­ploy­ment in counter-in­sur­gency du­ties is a con­tribut­ing fac­tor to stressed re­ac­tion, per­haps re­sult­ing in the lack of judg­ment and col­lat­eral dam­age.

THE AFSPA is of­ten painted by vested in­ter­ests as an in­stru­ment used by the ser­vices to shield their hu­man rights abuses. Nei­ther the law­mak­ers who have made this law nor the state gov­ern­ments that de­clare ar­eas ‘dis­turbed’ to en­able im­ple­men­ta­tion of the law, choose to dis­pel this mo­ti­vated no­tion, pre­fer­ring to re­main am­biva­lent for po­lit­i­cal con­ve­nience. What bet­ter ex­am­ple of such am­biva­lence than award of the Shau­rya Chakra for gal­lantry to Maj. Aditya Ku­mar by the Pres­i­dent of In­dia along­side an FIR by the J&K police? Amongst all the in­sti­tu­tions of our democ­racy, the armed forces can rightly claim to hold a unique sta­tus, be­cause every pro­fes­sional mil­i­tary per­son is hon­our-bound to pro­tect the sovereignty and in­tegrity of the na­tion even at the peril of one’s life. The foun­da­tions of this con­tract of un­lim­ited li­a­bil­ity on the part of the uni­formed fra­ter­nity for the larger good of the so­ci­ety are based nei­ther on the laws of the land nor on rules of gov­er­nance, but on mu­tual trust and moral and eth­i­cal con­duct on the part of both par­ties. Over the years for var­i­ous rea­sons, civil-mil­i­tary re­la­tions in In­dia have not re­flected this ideal—not for un­will­ing­ness on the part of the armed forces,

Hy­brid warfare is a mil­i­tary strat­egy that em­ploys po­lit­i­cal warfare, blend­ing it with con­ven­tional warfare and other means such as fake news and psy­cho­log­i­cal warfare and op­er­ates across many fields. Clearly in­ter­ests in­im­i­cal to In­dia and pro­tag­o­nists of this hy­brid war will be en­cour­aged with the lat­est hap­pen­ings in the Supreme Court

but of reser­va­tions of var­i­ous kinds on the part of the civil lead­er­ship which con­tin­ues to the take the armed forces and their sac­ri­fices for granted. When, for ex­am­ple, did we last see a se­ri­ous de­bate on mat­ters of de­fence and se­cu­rity in Par­lia­ment? Why, for in­stance are the armed forces be­ing kept out of na­tional se­cu­rity pol­icy mak­ing? And why the re­luc­tance to in­tro­duce much­needed changes to the higher de­fence or­gan­i­sa­tion? Noted strate­gic thinker K. Subra­ma­nian had aptly de­scribed civil-mil­i­tary re­la­tions in In­dia as: ‘politi­cians en­joy power with­out re­spon­si­bil­ity, bu­reau­crats wield power with­out ac­count­abil­ity, and the mil­i­tary as­sumes re­spon­si­bil­ity with­out di­rec­tion.’

HY­BRID warfare is a mil­i­tary strat­egy that em­ploys po­lit­i­cal warfare, blend­ing it with con­ven­tional warfare and other means such as fake news and psy­cho­log­i­cal warfare and op­er­ates across many fields. Clearly in­ter­ests in­im­i­cal to In­dia and pro­tag­o­nists of this hy­brid war will be en­cour­aged with the lat­est hap­pen­ings in the Supreme Court. Many na­tional armies, in­clud­ing our neighbour in the west, have un­der­mined their democ­ra­cies is an in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­cepted fact. In its in­dif­fer­ence to­wards the pro­longed use of the army in counter in­sur­gency du­ties, let In­dian democ­racy not be the first to re­verse this by un­der­min­ing its own army. Let this be a wake-up call. (The writer is retired Air Mar­shal )

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